Too often religious people are portrayed as mindless drones who find the ‘off’ switch on their brain early on and never switch it back on again. If we’re not actually stupid we’re ignorant, and if we’re not ignorant we’re closed minded, and if we’re not close minded then we’re intentionally unthinking. We have to be because we’ve accepted religious dogma and a religious authority.
Far be it from me to deny that there are stupid, ignorant, close minded and intentionally unthinking religious people in the world. I’ve met plenty. The problem is, I’ve met even more stupid, ignorant, close minded and intentionally unthinking non-religious people. In fact, (leaving the stupid people aside because they can’t help it) in this day and age, who is more likely to be ignorant, close minded and intentionally unthinking? A secularist or a religious person?
I think it must be the secularist. When I say ‘secularist’ I am not thinking of the careful, logical and informed atheist, but the sort of default atheist–the person I am thinking of actually believes what he reads in the newspapers. He really does trust the mainstream media. He believes what he sees on TV. He thinks those who rule over him (whether it is his boss, the mayor or congress or his member of parliament or the president) actually have him and his country’s welfare best future at heart. He trusts his bank manager, the real estate agent and the man next door. If he is an educated man he actually believes the professor, the expert, the man with the PhD.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating cynical distrust of all men, and although I am intrigued by conspiraacy theories, I do not believe in them. I am not paranoid. I do not think everyone is out to get me, nor do I advocate becoming a backwoodsman living in a cabin with a gun, growing my own turnips because the end of the world is nigh. In fact, I personally am just the opposite. I am optimistic. I do believe most people want what is good and are good at heart. I usually give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but part of giving them the benefit of the doubt is that I believe first of all in the benefits of doubt.
In other words, while I think most people want what is good, I don’t think they are good –at least through and through. I think they can be good, but like me, they are a work in progress. Therefore, I think we ought not to trust every smooth talker who comes along, and that includes smooth talking politicians, smooth talking preachers, smooth talking PhDs, smooth talking talk show hosts, smooth talking psychologists and the list goes on. We ought to have a reasonable level of doubt. That means we should examine and test and try things and think things through.
There are certainly religious people who do not think things through and belive that doubt, all doubt is a terrible sin. However, while there are undoubtedly many thoughtful and careful atheists, I find there are far more secularists who never doubt their own verities. The dogma they never doubt is the materialist dogma that there is nothing other than their own materialist preconceptions. They never doubt the secular establishment, and in that respect they are respectable–far too respectable, for they have come to trust the respectable people.
To be truly religious is therefore to be a doubter–to be subversive, to challenge the verities of the secular status quo. If this is so, then to be religious is to truly engage with the truths and practices of religion with intellectual vigor and a creative curiosity. Religion is supposed to open the mind, not close it. It is supposed to give us not just all the right answers, but all the right questions, and the truly religious people I have met have not only been the most open minded, but also the most open hearted. They have regarded the world, other people and God’s whole cosmos with a sense of wonder, curiosity and child like abandon, and within this they have entertained a child like sense of doubt and suspicion about the principalities and powers of this world.
In other words, they have doubted the authenticity of all that is bogus and ridiculous and proud and criminal. They have noticed that the emperor is naked, and in this they show us the true value and benefit of doubt.
Of all the religious people, the most seriously thoughtful must be the convert. What does the secular atheist make of the intelligent and educated convert? For here is a person who is obviously not stupid, ignorant, close minded or intentionally unthinking. On the contrary, the convert is one who has considered carefully, read the books, thought things through, followed the logic and often converts, like C.S.Lewis, still kicking and screaming against the magnetic pull of the Almighty.
Not all converts can be correct of course because some intelligent people convert to patently foolish religions like Scientology or Christian Science or even Science itself, but there should be enough clever, balanced, intelligent and educated people who do convert to Christianity to make a good solid atheistic secularist stop and think.
But this is the point of my post. I don’t think they really do stop and think.